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CBashore / Cody Bashore, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona wide receiver coach Aaron Pflugrad speaks during Wednesday's signing day announcement at the High Country Conference Center.


Education
top story
CCC board mulls hike in tuition to add two full-time faculty

The Coconino Community College Governing Board is attempting to balance the needs of students and staff while meeting the demands of a tight budget.

The board held a budget retreat Tuesday night to hear about the current state of funds for the community college. No formal decisions were made and the board will possibly take up a discussion of whether the college needs to go to voters for a bond or budget override at its Feb. 21 meeting.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, CCC Executive Vice President Jami Van Ess told the board that staff was expecting 0.3 percent growth in total revenues this year due to 1 percent growth in enrollment and a proposed $3 per credit hour increase in tuition, along with a 2 percent increase in the college’s property tax levy, the maximum allowed by law. She expected the annual aid from the state to be nearly flat again.

At the same time, staff was expecting a 2 percent overall increase in expenses due to inflation and the addition of two full-time faculty. Among the higher costs is a 9.65 percent increase to cover medical benefits for staff and faculty.

Some of the expenses that staff recommended this year included about $282,539 in planned maintenance to buildings at all three campuses, a 2 percent step increase in pay for employees and faculty who qualify for it and that the board budgeted for the next minimum wage increase. 

Van Ess also recommended resuming classes Fridays at the Fourth Street Campus to meet increased demand and suggested the board consider either an adjustment in pay for new hires who had been with the college at least half a year or a cost of living increase for faculty and staff.

Van Ess said staff recommended adjusting the fees charged for some classes that require special materials, such as art and science classes and career and technical classes. The adjustment of the fees will decrease the fees charged by the college by about $18,977.

However, staff also recommended increasing the cost of a parking pass for students, staff and faculty. Van Ess recommended increasing the parking fees for students by $9 and fees for employees by $10. The money would be used to remove some of the decorative islands in the parking lot to create 34 more parking spaces. She estimated that it would take about three years to pay off the bill with the increase in parking fees. It’s been about four years since the college last increased the parking fee for students and added a parking fee for employees.

Several board members objected to increasing fees and tutition on students. CCC has the highest tuition in the state to make up for the lowest property tax rate, which it has been unable to convince voters to raise in two recent elections.

“These all seem like small increases, but they add up,” said board member Marie Peoples. She said she was uncomfortable with how some of the fees were adding up, especially the $3 a credit hour increase in tuition that might price some students out of the market. She was also not a fan of the increase in parking fees for students, although she was OK with increasing parking fees for employees.

“It’s not because I don’t think it’s needed,” she said. “But our students are facing the same cost of living increases that staff and faculty are.”

She asked that staff come back with other options that didn’t include increasing tuition by $3 -- maybe a $2 increase -- and look at the possibility of employees shouldering more of the cost of the increase in health care. She contended that the days of expecting no increase in medical premiums were well behind the college and  increasing tuition to cover the cost was not sustainable.

Van Ess said the college was part of a larger insurance trust group that included the city, county and Flagstaff Unified School District. Some of the increases in healthcare costs had been approved by the trust board, such as the $3 increase in prescription coverage for generic drugs and the $500 increase in out-of-pocket costs for employees. However, the college board could divide up the 9 percent total increase in premiums as they saw fit. That could include sharing some of the cost or passing the whole increase down to employees, she said.

Board member Nat White also didn’t care for the $3 tuition increase but said he would go along with it this year. He hoped to hold tuition increases to zero over the next few years. He also liked the idea of a 2 percent step pay increase for employees and faculty and a minimum wage increase for those who qualified. He also was in favor of a pay adjustment for new hires, but not in a cost of living increase for all employees and faculty.

Board member Patrick Hurley pointed out that the $3 increase in tuition would effectively pay for the two new full-time faculty positions. As much as he didn’t like raising tuition, he would rather have the two new positions, he said. He also thought the parking fee should be paid by both students and employees. He agreed with White on employee pay increases.

Board Chair Patricia Garcia and board member Lloyd Hammonds agreed with White and Hurley.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Nikka Colorado and her husband AJ Patrick relax on the sunbaked sandstone of Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon Tuesday afternoon. A high pressure system continues to bathe the region with unseasonably warm temperatures until the weekend, when light snow is in the forecast.


Local
What to expect in Flagstaff if government again shuts down

On the eve of a possible second government shutdown of the year, federal agencies in Coconino County are again looking at having to furlough employees, halt public services and put their work on pause. If congressional leaders fail to pass a new stopgap spending deal, here’s what to expect from several local federal agencies, parks and monuments.

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

As with last month’s shutdown, Grand Canyon National Park will remain open. A spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey said the state of Arizona will again put up its own money to make sure the park remains open. The state already wired about $188,000 to the Department of Interior to keep Grand Canyon open during last month’s three-day shutdown. It expects to be reimbursed, but could also direct that money to be used if another shutdown begins Friday, spokesman Patrick Ptak said.

One-Star Grand Canyon Reviews

The National Park Service follows a standard procedure during a lapse in appropriations, including the closure of NPS-provided visitor services like restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance and public information. At Grand Canyon, that closure has extended to permit offices and entry gates, meaning no entry fees were collected. And during last month’s shutdown, campgrounds were open but weren’t staffed by employees checking reservations.

People with backcountry or river permits have been able to use those permits while concession-run lodges, restaurants, retail and services on the South Rim remained open.

The North Rim is closed for the winter season with reopening scheduled for May 15. 

FLAGSTAFF AREA NATIONAL MONUMENTS

Walnut Canyon National Monument, including the visitor center, trails and picnic area, will be closed with no public access allowed and no services provided during the shutdown.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument visitor center and associated restrooms will be closed and while the visitor use areas, trails and vault toilets will remain accessible, no services such as trash pickup or cleaning and restocking of restrooms will be provided. The Scenic Loop Road connecting Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments will be open but will not be patrolled or maintained.

National Park Service/Courtesy 

The moon rises over Wukoki pueblo at Wupatki National Monument.

Wupatki National Monument visitor center will be closed and access will be closed to all of the archaeological sites including Wupatki Pueblo, Wukoki Pueblo, Citadel/Nalakihu and Lomaki/Box Canyon Pueblos in order to protect those cultural resources. Services like trash pickup or restroom cleanup will not be provided. The Doney Picnic Area and associated vault toilet will remain accessible.

FOREST SERVICE

Firefighters, law enforcement officers, those charged with protecting federal property and employees tasked with emergency or natural disaster response and preparedness are among the Forest Service employees exempt from federal shutdown procedures.

But as last month’s three-day shutdown showed, many other employees who staff Forest Service offices and handle public service functions like the issuing of wood cutting permits won’t be working if there’s another lapse in federal appropriations. Minimal personnel are expected to staff occupied facilities like campgrounds as the shutdown is implemented.

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

The nation’s weather forecasters cancel and postpone scheduled activities during a government shutdown but continue to provide forecast, watch and warning information.

U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

The majority of the 190 employees at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Flagstaff Science Campus are furloughed during a government shutdown, said Scott Vanderkooi, chief of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. Just a handful of employees are needed to stay on to secure the facility as are a few scientists who are working with live animals. Those scientists are allowed to spend a few hours a day caring for the animals, Vanderkooi said.

Generally, work that was supposed to happen during the shutdown period simply gets postponed, he said. The longer delays, like the 16-day shutdown in 2013, begin to pose bigger challenges and problems for USGS staff to meet their deadlines, he said.

Emery Cowan / Photo courtesy of: Freshwaters Illustrated/USGS 

U.S. Geological Survey researcher Ted Kennedy samples invertebrates in Glen Canyon in this file photo.

Employees not exempt from furlough status have a few hours on the day a shutdown goes into effect to complete shutdown activities.

“That's when you try to scramble to reschedule things,” Vanderkooi said. But rescheduling is also difficult because no one knows when the shutdown will end, he said.

As for his thoughts on the current budget negotiations to avoid a shutdown Thursday at midnight?

“I have things to do on Friday,” Vanderkooi said. “I'd like to be here to get them done."


Local
Inflow forecast is bleak for Lake Powell

DENVER — One of the most important reservoirs in the southwestern U.S. will likely collect less than half its normal amount of spring runoff this year because of a warm, dry winter across much of the region, forecasters said Wednesday.

Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona, is expected to get 47 percent of its average inflow because of scant snow in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, said Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Smith said there is only a 10 percent chance that enough mountain snow will fall during the rest of the winter and spring to bring inflows back to average. It was the seventh-worst forecast for Lake Powell in 54 years.

"Things are looking pretty grim" along some of the tributaries that feed the Colorado River, Smith said during an online conference on the spring outlook for Lake Powell.

Powell, along with Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border, helps ensure the Colorado River system has enough water to get through dry years. The river supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles (16,000 square kilometers) of farmland in seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The river also serves cities and farms in northwest Mexico.

Lackluster runoff into Lake Powell this spring is not likely to have an immediate impact on water users because most reservoirs upriver from Powell filled up after last winter's healthy snowfall, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell, Mead and other reservoirs.

But consecutive dry winters could mean some water users won't get their normal allotment in future years.

This winter's snowfall in the mountains that feed the Colorado has been far short of average overall but varies widely. Along the Green River, a Colorado River tributary in Wyoming, the snowpack is 110 percent of average. Along the San Juan River in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico, it's 32 percent of average.

One reason is a strong winter weather pattern steering big storms away from the Southwestern United States and sending them north, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado's state climatologist and an associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

Another reason is exceptionally warm temperatures across much of the Southwest, he said.

About 90 percent of the Colorado River's water comes from snowmelt in the region known as the Upper Colorado River Basin, a large swath of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and smaller sections of Arizona and New Mexico.

The river system has been stretched thin for years because of a prolonged drought interrupted by occasional snowy years. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, has dropped to 41 percent of capacity. Lake Powell, the second-largest, is at 56 percent.

Some climate scientists say global warming is already shrinking the river. A study published last year by researchers from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University said climate change could cut the Colorado's flow by one-third by the end of the century.


Howard Fischer  

David Catania, spokesman for Starship Technologies, explains how the diminutive autonomous robot could be used to deliver everything from groceries and prescriptions to mail--if Arizona lawmakers legalize the operation of the devices on sidewalks. 


Local
top story
Parks, recreation group asks Flagstaff council to sponsor $58 million tax measure

A standing-room-only crowd implored the Flagstaff City Council Tuesday to give voters the chance to weigh in on a sales tax to fund new parks, recreation and open space.

The group, which calls itself the Flagstaff Open Space, Parks and Recreation campaign, has created a ballot question asking voters to approve a one-eighth cent sales tax that would be used to fund 13 projects that were proposed by various citizen groups and finalized by a steering committee.

At the meeting, 11 people spoke on behalf of several sports organizations and outdoor enthusiast groups, all citing a shortage of facilities in the city or a need for improvements.

Adam Kaupisch, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, told the council there are limited opportunities to play tennis in the city, and the existing facilities do not offer adequate space for high school teams and other groups. The city has no dedicated courts for pickleball, a sport growing in popularity that is similar to tennis but played with a ball similar to a wiffle ball.

A racquet complex would be one of three different sport-specific complexes included in the “Lake Mary Sports Park,” the most expensive item on the group’s $58.6 million wish list. The cost, which would include acquiring the land, is estimated to be $25.75 million.

Kaupisch told the council the city is “woefully behind on infrastructure for parks, recreation and open space.”

Jennifer Grogan, another member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, told the council that citizens regularly approach the commission asking for various projects, but the city does not have the means to fund them.

Grogan, who said she grew up in Flagstaff and had fond memories of playing sports in city parks, said the 2003 update to Foxglenn Park was the last addition the city has made to public parks.

A representative from the Flagstaff Snow Sharks said there is very limited access to swimming in Flagstaff, but a high demand for lap swimming and swimming lessons. There are about 150 participants in the swim lesson programs with the Snow Sharks, and very little space to teach lessons and have the teams practice.

A 25-meter competitive lap pool has the second-highest price tag of the items listed to be funded by the tax, and is expected to cost $10 million.

Representatives from other groups, including hockey, softball and soccer, also addressed the council, all contending the city’s existing facilities do not meet the needs of each group.

The proposed sales tax would cost 12 cents on a $100 purchase. Members of the group estimate the average household in Flagstaff would pay about $2 per month extra for the sales tax. The projects listed would be funded in 16 years, said Charles Hammersley, one of the group’s creators and a professor of parks and recreation management at Northern Arizona University who is also a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

City Manager Josh Copley told the council a discussion about the tax idea the group proposed will be held at the council’s February 20 meeting. The council is required to respond to a petition from citizens within 30 days of receiving it. If the council decides not to place the new tax on the ballot, the citizens group has the option of circulating initiative petitions to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.